In my first blog post for LRNT525, I discussed how leaders should motivate and inspire their followers. I described a leader as someone who: leads with a reflective approach, lives by honesty, demonstrates behaviours that are linked with enthusiasm, and optimism (Castelli 2016, Kouzes & Posner, 2011). I still believe this, however, all of these behaviours are demonstrable. I can vision a leader performing reflectively, being honest, acting enthusiastically and optimistically. But what if we couldn’t see someone any longer? What if the only method we had to demonstrate who we are as leaders becomes the words we type or the words we speak. On February 9th, I discussed leadership behaviours.
However, in nine weeks, our world has become something that we, none of us, have every experienced. It is a world where we wait for the latest update on the Covid-19 pandemic. I am either watching the headlines to hear the update, or I search on the internet to read the latest update, or I type an email to my Manager to update my working at home progress for the day. My world is defined by updates – and each update is a method of communicating that relates to hearing, seeing or reading.
My new mantra and what I have studied and learned through real life experience in the last nine weeks is that leaders in a complex world of digital innovation or crisis – communicate. Sheninger (2014) stated that leadership involves engaging stakeholders in two-way communication and Castelli (2016) referred to two-way communication and trusting open and transparent communication. Engaging people, communicating with them and trusting in who they are is vitally important. However, after nine weeks and lots of complex change in our world, I now believe that not only are leadership ‘behaviours’ important but also, leadership communication separates the true leaders from those that behave as leaders.
Communication goes beyond hearing, seeing and reading. It involves empathy – understanding the other person’s perspective and respecting their perspective because it is specific to them. Leading with empathy is directly related to the success of interpersonal relationships (Castelli, 2016 as cited by Davis and Hayes, 2011). As leaders communicate with others, through written or spoken language, how they incorporate the feelings of others, their anticipation, concerns and biases set apart those who lead with empathy and those that do not. Particularly during times of crisis, followers want and need empathetic communication so that they feel their needs are being met. During the current pandemic, people are becoming unemployed. They want to know what is going to happen next. They are being provided with the information keeping in mind the perspective of the receiver of the information. Empathetic communication bridges the divide.
A good leader bridges the communication divide by providing information that is relevant to the person or circumstances. Castelli (2016) stated that empathy is a qualification for effective leadership and that communication improves the leader/follower relationship. I would suggest that Covid-19 has produced a world of leaders who innately lead with empathy. Whether a leader’s actions affect the country or the workplace, they communicate every message with, ‘we are concerned for you and your safety’. They are bridging the divide between them and us and creating an environment that thrives on empathetic communication.
I hear over and over again that after the pandemic the world will not be the same. This is true for many reasons, but for the sake of leadership, I believe it to be true. Unfortunate circumstances have created leaders who are truly concerned for their followers. Leading and communicating with empathy is our new normal.
I believe I can lead change in my organization by working with leaders to show them that empathic design principles, co-designing with empathy and communicating with empathy are actually innate in what they do every day.
Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2011). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it (2nd ed). Retrieved from: https://viewer.books24x7.com/assetviewer.aspx?bookid=43184&chunkid=179682918
Monsell, C. (2020, February 9), Inspire and motivate people into action [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0101/inspire-and-motivate-people-into-action/
Sheninger, E. (2019, December 19). Pillars of digital leadership. Retrieved from http://leadered.com/pillars-of-digital-leadership/